A Toast To The Men of BLACK CHRISTMAS

(NOTE: This is more of a "Collins' Crypt" type of piece I just didn't have anywhere to post as the sites I write for already have plenty of Black Christmas material. So you get an off-brand piece here. You're welcome.)

Jess: “Clare Harrison is missing. I was out with the search party looking for her.”
Peter: “How noble.”

Let’s get something out of the way here: Keir Dullea’s Peter is NOT the killer in Black Christmas, despite the well intentioned efforts to make us think he is. If you want to assume he is and that the phone ringing at the end of the film is just a coincidental phone call (perhaps Mrs. Mac’s sister calling, wondering where she is), that’s fine! Ease your troubled mind! But as careful viewers – and/or those who go through the dozen hours of bonus features on Scream Factory’s deluxe 4K UHD blu-ray - can attest, Peter cannot be the killer, as we see Billy’s shadow on the wall watching him and Jess have their discussion about the abortion.

He is, however, the biggest jerk in slasher history, and honestly Jess wasn't any safer with him than she was with Billy.

Much has been made of the 1974 film’s rather progressive politics, with Jess not only making the decision to abort her child without considering his opinion on the matter (nor should she, if that’s unclear), but flat out calling it an “abortion”, instead of using the more subtle language that is still prevalent today. As I myself have noted earlier (I’ve written about this movie a lot over the past 15 years or so!*), Jess and the other women in the film almost seem to be written as a response to the “sex = death” motif that’s so popular in slasher movies, which is of course impossible since the film came along before any of the standards (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc) that popularized that cliché. It’s not impossible to believe that the film’s increased popularity over the years isn’t because of its scares or setting or any of that, but because its forward-thinking attitude regarding its female characters simply makes it more interesting than one might expect.

But the men are pretty fascinating too in their own way. Again, Peter is not the killer, but if he was that’d just be yet another red flag against him in an already overflowing list. The above exchange is a perfect example of how much of a monster he is; even if he wasn’t fond of Clare for whatever reason, what kind of jackass mocks his girlfriend for being worried about a missing friend? When he calls Jess earlier in the film and she laments that he wasn’t able to join the party, he could have easily just said “I know, it sucks” even if he didn’t mean it (anyone who has ever been in a relationship has likely offered a similar disingenous response to “unfortunately” missing out on a spouse’s work party or something that they were actually happy to miss), but instead he jumps down her throat, eliciting an apology out of her for not being considerate of why he missed it, as if she was actually complaining that he wasn’t there. Even if you ignore the horrible way he acts toward her regarding the abortion, he still pretty much deserves what he got at the end of the movie.

Luckily he’s the only male that is closer to villain than hero. On the other end of the personality spectrum is Art Hindle’s Chris, who spends the entire movie looking for Clare, a rather sad character arc when we know she’s dead the entire time. Unlike Peter, he seems like a genuinely good guy (if Barb is correct, Clare isn’t even sleeping with him, so if he was anything like Peter he’d probably just be glad for the easy out and find a Townie to shack up with instead), and is quick to make sure the cops actually do something about finding her, joining the girls (and keeping them warm!) during the freezing nighttime search. Hell, he even goes out of her way to meet her dad (another memorable scene-stealer), and it’s kind of sad that both men end the movie still not sure what happened to her – one wonders how long it took for the cops to finally check the attic and discover her body. Apparently, the film’s producers wanted Bob Clark to shoot an ending that revealed Chris was the killer (even more impossible than the idea that it was Peter – Billy’s POV includes Chris leaving the party in the first scene!), which would have been a cliché – “it was the nice guy!”. So without that dumb note being implemented, we have another rarity for the slasher genre: the actual nice guy who isn’t the lead’s boyfriend nor is he killed.

It's also the rare slasher where the cop is sympathetic and competent. Even still relatively early in his career, John Saxon was the kind of guy who commanded your attention just as soon as he walked into the room, but he’s not a hardass or antagonistic presence like, say, Sheriff Garris in Friday the 13th Part 6 or even Saxon’s own character in the Elm Street movies, who was incredulous/disbelieving of his own daughter. Instead he quickly admonishes his deputy for not taking the girls seriously, gets their phone tapped, leads the search party in the park, starts looking into Peter as a possible suspect (who can blame him?), etc - all in about 12 hours! (One thing about the film that’s often overlooked is that it takes place in a 24 hour period, another thing that makes Peter’s guilt all but impossible due to his conservatory duties.) True, he doesn’t actually catch the killer in the end, but it’s not for a lack of trying, and he seems genuinely concerned for the girls instead of doing the typical thing of chalking their fears up to paranoia or whatever.

Even the smaller parts are memorable. Phyl’s foul mouthed boyfriend is a hoot, a man who clearly hates kids being forced to play – I always lament he didn’t pop up again somewhere. Then there’s the two weird guys who are on the neighborhood watch, popping in like Bob and Doug Mackenzie just stopped by to see their SCTV pal Andrea Martin. And while the movie is not a comedy, few things in the world make me laugh as hard as the “New exchange?” scene, thanks mostly to Saxon’s fellow detective, who spends the entire scene just full on cackling at Nash’s stupidity (“Something dirty, ain’t it?”) and his delight at watching Saxon deal with it. Indeed, the character is billed as “Laughing Detective”, as if they knew giving him a name would be pointless since that’s how he’d be referred to anyway.

So while the film is first and foremost a women-centric film, and a great one at that, it was no slouch in the male department either (something both remakes missed entirely, though at least their anonymity and dullness was part of the point of the 2019 one). These gents – and scoundrels – really add to the film’s almost unprecedented number of memorable characters in a slasher, where even the folks who only appear in a scene or two manage to stick in your memory in some way. Normally a “body count” film like this only bothers to include people who will meet the business end of a knife or machete, but Black Christmas sports over a dozen women and men to worry about while keeping the body count to a mere six (including the never seen girl in the park, and Peter himself). Truly a Christmas miracle.

*Ironically, the very first thing I ever wrote for Bloody Disgusting was a review of the remake, and it was also around that time that I did an email interview with Bob Clark for the site, so I’ve basically been writing about Billy and Agnes for my entire writing career.

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Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

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FTP: Perfect Strangers (1984)

DECEMBER 1, 2022

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

My least favorite Larry Cohen movie (of the ones I've seen anyway) is Special Effects, his Body Double-esque thriller that I found impossibly dull. But some friends have raved about it (one even said it was in fact one of his best!) so I've been meaning to give it another look, and after watching the late director's interview on the bonus features for Perfect Strangers (aka Blind Alley, which is the title on the film itself but the disc packaging is given the Strangers title) my goal has been renewed. Because it turns out they were shot back to back, and now I can't help but wonder if he was spreading himself too thin, resulting in these two uncharacteristically light films from the usually dependable maverick.

At least this one starts off promising, with a guy getting stabbed in front of a kid and then worrying if the kid (who is like two and can barely talk) will be able to identify him. So he does the most obvious thing: he finds a different (older) kid in the street and asks him if he'd remember him if he saw him again later, to which the kid asks if he's a ______ (word that doesn't fly anymore, starts with R, slang for dumb person). The killer also spray paints a shadow of himself while talking to himself as a song about shadows plays on the soundtrack, and all of this is in the first five minutes! So, yeah! This rules!

Unfortunately the silliness tapers off as the film goes on. It's only 90 minutes (so, shorter than Special Effects at least) and there are some solid bits throughout, but the opening promises a little more excitement than the film ultimately offers. Our guy is tasked by his mob bosses to kill the kid to make sure there are no loose ends, and to do this he begins romancing the boy's mother (who missed the crime entirely; her not paying much attention to her toddler is kind of a running theme throughout the movie) to increase his chances of offing the kid and chalking it up to an accident. So it SEEMS like a movie where this guy might legit start falling for her and switch sides, maybe protect the kid (and the mom) from his mob partners, but nah. It's mostly just a series of scenes of him having the perfect chance to off the kid and then deciding not to, so it gets pretty repetitive. The mob guys never even really take a more active role in the proceedings, nor does he encounter the cop (Cronenberg regular Stephen Lack, the only person in the movie I recognized) which might give it a little tension. It's all just very loosey goosey, and I couldn't help but think if the guy was played by Michael Moriarty it might have been at least more fun.

Still, Cohen tosses in a few good bits, like a scene where the killer plans to kill the kid by pushing him so hard on the swing that he falls off and impales himself on a nearby fence (!), and an insane climactic chase where the kid is on a portable merry go round (is this a real thing?) that's hitched to a truck, which has been hijacked by the killer. So we see the kid spinning around and around as the truck drives around New York, no obvious dummy being used (it's CLEARLY him in a few shots, in fact); it's not only fairly well crafted, it's kind of terrifying in a "there's a million ways this could go wrong" way.

But apart from those scenes, there's just too much filler here, with unresolved plot points (the kid's real father is last seen being held at gunpoint by the mom's over protective friend - it's unclear if she ever let him go!) and nowhere near enough suspense to maintain the "thriller" we've been promised. Cohen bounced back the next year with The Stuff, so it's obvious he still had his chops - I'll forever wonder if he had combined his resources and budget to make just one of these two (Effects had better potential, in my opinion) it could have ended up being one of my faves. Instead we got two of his lesser works, though I guess it helps me appreciate The Stuff all the more, so that's fine.

What say you?

Couldn't find a trailer so here's someone else reviewing the Vinegar Syndrome disc!

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FTP: The Unholy (1988)

NOVEMBER 29, 2022

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

For whatever reason, I saw but never got around to reviewing Prey for the Devil, which was yet another exorcism movie that I found more enjoyable than most (see also: The Rite, The Devil Inside, etc). As I’ve explained elsewhere, I feel the mix of being raised Catholic and also not seeing The Exorcist until much later in my horror life (I was in college, in fact – a full 12 years after I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like) allows me to be a little more endeared to these things than the average fan, who see them all as “bad Exorcist ripoffs!” and little more. At any rate, if I DID review it I’d probably have noted that it was fitting for Ben Cross to be playing a priest in his final movie (he died in 2020, but the movie had been delayed) since he had played so many others, so I had to laugh when I loaded up The Unholy and saw that it starred Cross as... you guessed it, a priest.

The movie has come up a few times at horror trivia and I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I need to finally watch that” but I also had the wrong idea of what the movie was. I had it in my head that it was about a vampire terrorizing a church (my mental image was something like Demon Knight with a eurotrash-type vamp in the Billy Zane role? I have no idea where that movie concept came from) so I was kind of amused to see that it was sort of an Exorcist riff, or at least closer to one than any vampire movie. Cross is the new priest at a New Orleans church who is replacing the previous one, who was murdered (and we later learn he wasn’t the first murdered priest), and he is curious about the sexy nightclub next door that’s into some BDSM stuff. And he meets a “nice girl” type who may be trying to sway him into breaking his vow of celibacy – could she be the murderer?

That question is answered... somewhat hazily! It’s not a bad movie, but I’m glad I saw it on Vestron’s special edition, because the bonus features cleared up some of my issues with the film, and confirmed what I suspected: that it was reworked at some point. In fact in a way it was reworked twice; turns out the script was written in the ‘70s and would have indeed been something more dramatic in the Exorcist vein, but was rewritten in the ‘80s to give it modern sensibilities. And maybe that’d work, but it was also partially reshot/re-edited by the producers who wanted more horror, something like Nightmare on Elm Street and things of that nature, as opposed to the more serious thriller director Camilo Vila intended. So you have a movie that has not one but two tug-of wars with the basic idea of what kind of movie it’s going to be, so it’s not really surprising that it doesn’t really work as a whole.

But it’s not too bad. When I see Cross in stuff he’s usually playing supporting roles, so it was fun to see him as a lead and backed up by vets like Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, not to mention the lovely ladies throwing themselves at him and trying to get him to break his vows (this movie would be much shorter if I was the main character, I tell you what). They don’t use the New Orleans setting all that much, but there’s enough to give it a little more flavor than the average independent horror movie of the time, nearly all of which were shot in Los Angeles (not counting REAL independent stuff, i.e “regional” horror). And while they throw the movie’s whole vibe off and look kind of silly, I can’t deny that I was entertained by the two little rubber demons running around at the (reshot) end of the film, as if John Buechler had broken into the editing room and took over for the final reel.

Vestron’s release is jampacked with bonuses, including the original (and yes, superior) ending as well as a commentary with Vila, who obviously wasn’t thrilled about the final product. In fact he even notes that if he was asked to do the commentary a couple years earlier he would have said no, but luckily for us had softened enough on it over time to at least be happy with the parts that weren’t reshaped without him and accept that even as is, it’s not all that bad. And I discovered that this was, in fact, Vestron’s highest grossing horror movie of all time (2nd in their whole history after Dirty Dancing), which delighted me but also made me lament that once upon a time a movie like this could land on over a thousand screens and outgross a few major releases for the year (including Hellraiser II, which shares the work of Bob Keen). There’s a strong chance that Spielberg’s newest film doesn’t even get to play on as many screens as this weird little demon flick did back then! It’s charming and sad in equal measures, how much things have changed and not really for the better in my opinion. But hey, at least Vestron has saved it, and for Cross fans who (like me) were sad to see him looking so sickly in Prey for the Devil, it offers a chance to see him looking healthy and telling stories in his 20 minute interview. RIP sir, you always made little character parts that much more interesting, and I'm sorry it took me years to get around to watching you chain-smoke and try not to bang the hot redhead demon lady that kept trying to do just that.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

From The Pile Roundup!

NOVEMBER 16, 2022

GENRE: LOTS OF THEM!
SOURCE: DVDS/BLU-RAYS (OWN COLLECTION)

As tends to be the case every October (and increasingly bleeding more and more into September and lasting into November), I watch stuff but find no time to write a review, and then by the time I DO have an hour or so to jot some thoughts down, I find my thoughts are vague. Specifically, too vague to write up an entire review, even by the shorter FTP standards. So, as I have in the past, here’s a bunch of quick capsule style takes on the handful of “pile” movies I managed to find time for in between screenings, parties, fall activities (I went apple picking! I used the picker and everything!) and even a trip to Vegas to see my beloved Bat out of Hell performed as a musical (!).

CANDY CORN
I’ve had this for a couple years now, always vowing to give it a look during the Halloween season, when the titular candy is being weirdly hated on by internet folk who seem to think it’s forced on them like (and worse than) brussel sprouts. If you don’t like it, fine – but just shut up about it! Some of us like it just fine! (Though I feel it’s better in a mix than by itself, admittedly.) Anyway, for the movie it refers to a sort of calling card the vengeful back from the grave killer leaves at his murder scenes as he takes out the people who killed him. The seasonal flavor and some gory deaths give it a little bit of oomph, but unfortunately it’s one of those modern horror movies where they blow their budget on securing a couple names (Tony Todd and PJ Soles in this case) to show up for a few minutes of thankless screentime, rather than put it toward the actual movie and hire local talent for these pointless roles (Soles literally does next to nothing beyond answer phones, which I guess could be considered a little nod to her death in Halloween but doesn’t change the fact that anyone’s mother could have handled the part just as well). They certainly could have used the money for a better DP, since part of the problem with the movie is that it’s lit like a realtor’s commercial for a house they’re trying to sell, which puts the imagery at constant odds with the dark story. A real chore to get through.

SPELLCASTER
I kind of feel bad for this movie, which was shot in 1986 but due to Empire/Charles Band’s financial issues, it didn’t see release until 1992, long past the expiration date for this kind of lighthearted (but not exactly comic) horror fare. It probably would have been a minor fave had it come out when it was supposed to, alongside things like House and Terrorvision, but I can’t imagine that it found any love by the time it came out, as even the horror comedies that were made for the time (Buffy, Stay Tuned, etc) were spurned by audiences in favor of things like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Silence of the Lambs. But as a basically lost relic of the era, it certainly has its charms, depicting a group of very 80s people hunting for a million dollar check in a castle lorded over by an MTV style VJ (Richard Blade) but owned by the mysterious Diablo (Adam Ant!). Naturally, supernatural forces are at play and the contestants are picked off one by one in ironic ways, like a gluttonous guy who hungrily eats a roasted pig turning into one himself. Bill Butler shows up and dies pretty quickly, so that’s always a good way to win me over, but like many an Empire film, you’ll wish it had it a little more spring in its step. But still, it’s a breezy little time capsule, and I was constantly amused by the idea that it might not even make sense to a younger viewer since the whole thing revolves around the success and allure of a station showing music videos.

RED HOUSE
An abysmal slasher that seems to be the product of someone who perhaps didn’t get the memo that Texas Chain Saw style films were already clogging the market and we didn’t need another that didn’t do anything new. We have a carful of young folks, one of whom inherited a big house from a relative they never met, and they meet a couple of rednecks that frighten them, a weird guy living in the house unknown (this paves the way for a surprising little nod to Black Christmas, which I had to respect), and a cop who seems nice enough. Any guesses who the killer is? It takes forever to get going, the killer on the poster isn’t even in the movie (probably not their fault to be fair, but worth noting), the editing is awkward as hell, and salt in the wound: there’s an unpleasant rape scene in the final 15 minutes that makes things worse. The actresses have a pretty good vibe when they’re just talking (it sounds like improv, but there’s a natural quality to it that at least makes us believe they’re all friends, a rarity in these things), but everything you actually showed up for is generic at best.

THE SURVIVALIST
Back when I was going to the drive-in a lot thanks to the theaters being closed, I saw a movie called Hunter Hunter about a guy living off the grid and how his wife and daughter weren’t super keen on it, but had to use the skills he taught them when a random stranger showed up and meant harm. It was solid, but nothing I really need to see again… my main takeaway was that it was at least better than It Comes At Night, the A24 thing with Riley Keough and Joel Edgerton that shared a lot of its tone and plot beats. Well, The Survivalist (which came earlier than either of them) is pretty similar to both of those, and I just don’t have the fortitude for THREE miserable movies about people who just want to be left alone getting attacked by murderous thieves and such. It’s also longer than either of those, so I like to think that they both were like “Let’s do the Survivalist but in 90 minutes instead of around 110!” Is it better than those? I don’t know. It has more than one shot of the main actor’s penis though, and Mia Goth pops up for those who might want to see the newest horror It Girl when she was just starting out, so there are definite draws for certain audiences, but I just can’t connect to these kind of things, in which the underlying message seems to be that if you want to be left alone you deserve to die.

THE BELIEVERS
My favorite of the lot, though mostly for its solid first hour, where Martin Sheen is trying to rebuild his life with his son after his wife dies in a freak accident, while getting drawn into what appears to be a cult-related series of child killings in New York. Unfortunately, it's one of those movies that offers you a pretty clear picture of who the villain is and even what they want, then spends too much time resolving that plot when the tension has been removed. At just under two hours, it starts to really drag in its back half, peppered only by the occasional freaky bit (like Robert Loggia, unable to move due to the cult's voodoo powers, trying to kill himself) and that old NYC grime that doesn't exist anymore. It's fine, but coulda been a must-see with some tightening or, at the very least, a second suspect to who was behind it all, which honestly you can probably figure out just from reading the cast list at the beginning.

INQUISITION
Paul Naschy does Witchfinder General! Which, admittedly, is enough to qualify this as worth watching, but the sleazier elements never quite gel with the standard "WITCH!" accusations story, and since I just watched Witchhammer on the All The Haunts Be Ours boxed set (which itself owed much to Witchfinder) the deja vu translated to indifference more often than not. Plus, Naschy plays two roles, one being the witchfinder and the other being Satan - which should be amazing! - but he does so in what looks like a devil Halloween costume, which doesn't exactly make for effective cinema. To be fair to the film though, it was a crappy dub on a less than great transfer (not the one linked above to be clear), so perhaps in a proper presentation I'd be more endeared to it. It has a great ending though, so even if you're stuck with the same transfer - and more importantly, you haven't recently watched something so similar in this very niche sub-genre (actually two movies if you count Neil Marshall's The Reckoning, which came out not that long ago) - it's still worth a look especially if you're a Naschy fan.

Anyway I think that’s everything, and hopefully things will be back to normal-ish now. Though I must admit: the two weeks or so that HMAD was completely dead due to some Google error kind of left me disheartened about writing more, knowing that it might all just disappear for good one day if I can’t get a Google robot to undo its error. That, plus Amazon changing its ad functionality (and thus reducing my referral income – the only source of revenue the site has – to mere pennies) has got me thinking that maybe it’s time to just let the site rest in peace for good. It’s been almost a decade (!) since I “retired” and as life gets in the way more and more I find less and less time to commit to even the stripped down version I envisioned (2-3 reviews a week, HAH! I’m lucky to get that a month!) and end up writing things like this just to have SOMETHING new for those who are still coming by. Plus there are lots of voices out there now, many of them far more introspective and intelligent than I am, so I keep thinking “Let’s leave it to them!” and using this little bit of time on something else (a new book, perhaps?). Long story short, don’t get too mad at me if one day I post a review of Children of the Corn 12 or something and never post again.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Piper (2015)

NOVEMBER 2, 2022

GENRE: REVENGE
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

We’ve all seen trailers that have perhaps spoiled a film’s plot points, but The Piper is the rare one where the damn poster gave its 3rd act away. The cover of the DVD (which I got for a buck, so I can’t really get upset about this to be clear!) shows the film’s hero in bloody clown makeup, not wholly unlike The Crow or something along those lines, seemingly leading a charge of rats. The synopsis clarifies things, saying that a man is betrayed by the people who hired him and killed his loved ones, so... kind of obvious what this movie is about, right? A sort of hybrid between The Crow and Willard, more or less?

Well, I mean sure, eventually. But the movie is 108 minutes long and there are only 23 left (including end credits) by the time the thing that needs to be revenged actually occurs. So the poster image of the hero in his makeup, leading the rats, is akin to making a poster for Avengers: Endgame with everyone gathered at Tony’s funeral or something (to be fair, this cover is actually slightly less spoiler-y than the original poster, which shows the actual final scene!). Yes, you won’t have the context, but it only takes a few minutes of the movie, once you know who the guy is (and, more importantly, that he’s not one to wear makeup nor is he on the rats’ side) to put it together in your head. Instead, the first hour or so is completely horror free (other than a few grisly shots of the rat’s reign of terror on the local cat population and a few scattered flashbacks involving leprosy), telling a tale of a simple man and his ailing son who are trekking to Seoul in hopes of getting the kid treatment for his tuberculosis. Along the way they find a village where everyone seems unnerved by the presence of a stranger, except for their leader who welcomes the pair into his home so they can rest for a bit before continuing on their way. Learning about their rat problem, the man offers to help drive them out with his music in exchange for some money to help pay for the kid’s medical needs.

And so we watch as he tries some things, eventually succeeding, while also becoming friendly with some of the townsfolk and in particular a widow who takes a liking to him. Knowing that it’s a genre film (a Korean one at that!) we can be sure that something tragic (and likely brutal) will happen regardless of what the poster promised, but I must admit I checked the runtime more than once, curious when it would get to that point. Not that I was bored or anything, but I knew what was happening: the longer we spent with this kind man and his adorable son, the harder it would be to watch when the inevitable happened. I couldn't help but think of Pumpkinhead; even before I had a son of my own I was left kind of devastated by the inciting incident (as a dad now, I can’t even watch it), and that happened like 20 minutes into the movie! Here we get to know them so well that each extra minute just made it that much sadder when it happened.

Worse, they salt the wound not once but twice by giving us reason to think maybe the kid will be OK. First the townsfolk just drive the two of them out after cutting off a few of the Piper’s figures (presumably taking away his ability to play), giving them food that is poisoned – and the kid is about to eat it but stops, and you’re like “Phew, he knew better!” Then he realizes the flute is gone, so he sneaks back into town to retrieve it, so you’re probably thinking “Oh no, they’ll catch him and this time they won’t let him go!” But no! He gets his father’s prized possession and heads back out… only to then take a bite of the poisoned food after all (so we realize that he didn’t stop earlier out of suspicion – he got distracted by noticing that the flute was missing). It’s such a gut-wrenching moment, the sort of thing that if I were to rewatch the movie I’d be hoping that somehow it’ll work out differently on this viewing (a strange phenomenon that I experience on rare occasions; one of the most notable is in Cast Away when he loses Wilson. EVERY GODDAMN TIME I watch that movie I hope this time he’ll wake up and retrieve him in time!).

Making the whole thing sadder is that most of the issues start with the belief that the Piper is in fact a spy for the Communists, as the movie is set in the immediate aftermath of the Korean War. The chief is telling his people that the war is still going, to exert control and keep some secrets of his own from getting out, so he worries that the Piper will tell the locals the truth. And his main bit of “proof” is a mysterious note that neither man can read, which the Piper says is the address of the doctor in Seoul but the chief believes to be information for the commie spies. Only us in the audience know the truth: it’s just a mean slur at the Piper’s expense, written in English. There’s something kind of heartbreaking about both the hero and the villain going to extreme lengths because they weren’t educated enough to decipher a simple four word note, as you realize literally nothing in the movie would have happened if either of them could read it: the man wouldn’t have been traveling to Seoul in the first place, and even if he was, the chief would have known he really was just a poor outcast trying to care for his son.

Anyway, for what it is, it’s pretty good, though the slow pacing to get to the “horror” part of the movie will likely be too much to ask for impatient viewers, and admittedly there isn’t much inventiveness or excitement to seeing him get his revenge, as it’s quickly raced through and relies on not always convincing CGI rats swarming toward one of the town jerks. But as a tragic drama (based on the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” story, yes) it’s a solid little flick, and certainly worth the buck I paid. Hell it’s probably the best of the movies I’ve gotten at Dollar Tree! Put THAT on the poster, at least it ain’t spoiling the ending.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Smile (2022)

OCTOBER 18, 2022

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As a licensed Horror Movie A Dayologist, I make it a point to see every major horror movie in theaters (and a lot of the minor ones too!), if for no other reason than to ensure I have a review up of something people are actually watching, as opposed to obscure DTV stuff from 30 years ago. But the nearly two hour runtime of Smile (along with trailers and travel) meant I needed a three hour block of free time that also coincided with the theater’s schedule, and over the past few weeks such a thing hasn’t existed. Between Screamfest, Beyond Fest, various fall activities with my family, etc. I haven’t had a three MINUTE block of free time, it seems, so I kept watching the movie make money and be discussed without being able to find time to see it for myself. Luckily, the film’s success meant it would still be there when I finally got a chance, now in its fourth week in theaters.

But I had to laugh that it turned out that the day I finally had time was October 18th, which also happened to be the 20 year birthday of The Ring, the film most critics (and even fans) have compared it to (hell even their runtimes are identical: 1:55). In a way it felt like a legitimate way to honor Gore Verbinski’s modern (well, I guess not so modern, now) classic, seeing that it continues to influence twenty years later. At times the similarities were a bit eye rolling – did it need to be a week for the curse to kill you here, too? – but for the most part, beyong the thing being passed from one person to another, the two felt different enough that I barely even thought about ol’ Samara once the movie got going.

(Spoilers ahead!)

A big part of that is due to the fact that, thankfully, the characters in the movie aren’t trying to solve a mystery of where the curse began. Our hero Rose (Sosie Bacon) is a trauma therapist who is also a workaholic; in an early scene we see her leave her office for the day (after learning she’s been there since the day before), and, after a beat or two, her phone rings, for which she rushes back and continues to work. Later we learn that she witnessed her mother’s suicide as a child, so it’s pretty clear to understand why she works so much – helping patients with their trauma is her way of coping with her own. But when a new patient (Kindred Spirits' Caitlin Stasey) also commits suicide in front of her after rambling about being cursed by people who smile, she starts seeing things as well and is forced to not only deal with this, but also finally come to terms with the trauma her mother left her with all those years ago.

That personal connection, perhaps, keeps her from digging into the origins of this particular “virus.” Her ex (Kyle Gallner) is a cop who she enlists to help her track the thing back a ways (Stasey’s character saw a professor kill himself, that professor in turn saw a woman kill herself at a conference, and so on), but it only goes far enough for them to agree it’s not just a coincidence and that something otherworldly must be happening. And that’s great! Any sort of “it all began with this person” type plotting would a. just make it feel more like The Ring and b. distract away from Rose’s plight, as given the ticking clock of her own seemingly unavoidable death she has to decide how to rid herself of it, or perhaps isolate herself and commit suicide without anyone seeing it, leaving the curse without a host to continue to spread.

Of course, that’s some rather grim subject matter, and it doesn’t always mesh perfectly with the demands of a modern studio horror movie (i.e. jump scares) but it mostly works, thanks to Bacon’s endearing performance (real Neve Campbell vibes) and some well-crafted tension scenes from director Parker Finn. Finn makes his feature debut here with an expansion of his short (which also featured Stasey, though is sadly unavailable online at the moment – hopefully it’ll be on the Blu-ray), and fares better than average when it comes to these sort of stretched out redoes. Sure, it can be a little repetitive at times (the movie even makes a joke about how Rose breaks TWO wine glasses in its first act, both times after being startled by the ghostly images that are now following her), but it never bored me and had me pretty much hooked in until the final ten minutes (more on that soon). It’s also kind of funny at times; Rose isn’t afraid to speak her mind and gets in some pretty great lines at her disbelieving fiancé and obnoxious sister, who she resents for leaving when they were younger instead of helping her deal with their unwell mother. It’s also got an all timer bit of morbid humor involving her missing cat; it’s one of those things where you’ll likely realize what’s happening (i.e. where the cat is) a few beats before it actually does, forcing you to squirm as Finn and his editors delay the inevitable just to build up the anxiety about the moment that the poor kitty is “found.”

I also enjoyed how it felt like a low-key take on MeToo stuff, in that you really feel Rose’s frustration that no one believes her, and that’s all she seemingly wants. Nearly every woman who has come forward about their abuse has had their motives questioned, with “she’s making it up for attention” kind of idiocy coming from detractors, planting seeds of doubt into those who might have believed her otherwise. And you see that sort of thing here; when Rose meets Stasey’s character, she of course chalks it up to some kind of mental breakdown, only to go through it herself starting the next day (when it’s, of course, too late to apologize to Stasey for doubting her). Rose’s fiancé, her sister, her boss, etc all keep coming up with excuses as to why she’s acting the way she is, without anyone (except the ex, eventually) even humoring her, let alone believing her. That extreme annoyance is something Bacon’s performance really makes you feel down to your bones; if you’ve ever been dismissive of someone’s claims of this or that, you’re likely to feel mighty guilty about it after seeing her breakdown (at a party scene, if you’re looking out for it).

But man, the ending. I won’t spoil the particulars, but it involves some CGI nonsense and a weak closer that is needlessly pessimistic when you consider the film’s themes of unresolved trauma. It seems to be saying there’s no way of getting past it, and maybe that’s true, but man. BLEAK! And not that bleak endings are bad, but when you couple that with the silly apparition being “battled” and the fact that Rose’s fiancé was just dropped out of the third act entirely, it feels like an ending that was either the result of test screening changes or perhaps a filmmaker having a terrific concept but no ending in mind, and this was the best they could come up with because they had to have SOMETHING. And the more I got away from it (this post is up six days after I saw the movie, you might notice), the angrier I got - it really undid a lot of goodwill, and I truly hope there was a different finale originally that got ruined by nervous execs or whatever, because building up to that climax (and then a novelty pop song on the credits to pour salt in the wound) really felt kind of insulting.

It's not bad enough to derail the whole thing, mind you – just one of those “this coulda been a classic if they just knocked it out of the park at the end” kind of movies that ends up just being pretty good (ironically, it was knocked out of first place by Halloween Ends which has the opposite problem: it’s a little messy/awkwardly-paced throughout but has a great final 10-15 minutes). Without seeing the short it’s hard to know what they originally covered, though given its short runtime (11 minutes) and two person cast I am going to assume it’s basically just Stasey’s scene here in a different fashion, and therefore how it ended wouldn’t really correlate here. Maybe the blu-ray will offer an alternate ending or something that will be a bit more to my liking. Either way, I’m glad the movie’s a hit and, more importantly, I’m glad my gamble of using up some of my precious/sparse free time this month paid off. Well; MOSTLY paid off - the popcorn sucked, but that’s not the movie’s fault, far as I know.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Kindred (1987)

OCTOBER 17, 2022

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

It’s rare that a bonus feature on a Blu-ray perfectly encapsulates why a movie works as well as it does, but that’s exactly the case for The Kindred. Along with a commentary, a retrospective, and some promotional materials (including the trailer, which kicks off with like 30 seconds’ worth of the monster growling over shots of the cast – imagine seeing something that bold today!?) is a collection of behind the scenes material shot during the film’s production in 1986, and it’s mostly devoted to the FX guys trying to get the monsters to move right for the camera/lighting that was set up. No one seems frustrated or anything, but watching them repeatedly try to get, for example, a little mutant thing inside a jar to pop out the correct way, you can almost hear a producer saying “F it, let’s do it with CGI and move on!”

Of course, that wasn’t an option in the 1980s, which meant that they’d keep trying until they got it right with the superior rubber and latex versions. While practical FX will always be around, the reliance on CG has infested even lower budget productions like this as the software became cheaper (and sadly, it’s probably easier to find a VFX artist than a practical sculptor, regardless of budget), and as a result the charm of movies like this went out the window along with the tangible creatures. The Kindred isn’t going to land on the list of anyone’s favorite monster movies of the decade, as it can’t exactly compete with the likes of The Thing or The Fly, but it IS a lot of fun and more than makes up for its clunkier bits with some truly impressive creature work. And goop. So, so much goop.

Even Rod Steiger joins in on the goopy fun, letting himself get drenched in the stuff as if he wasn’t an Oscar winning actor; it’s the sort of moment you can see coming and figure “Well they’ll turn the camera around and have a double take the hit” but nope! Steiger continues his dialogue as he’s slimed like a Nickelodeon star, and it’s such a weirdly charming thing to see – the commitment of an actor who wasn’t treating this B movie as something beneath him, the disgusting texture of the stuff, the content of the scene… it’s a surprisingly sweet moment, all things considered. Steiger isn’t the only one in the movie to be covered in goo, of course – another actor is submerged in a muddy texture that’s possibly the monster’s excrement, one turns into a fish monster, people are wrapped in slimy tentacles… it’s one of the most viscous movies I’ve seen in years, regardless of era.

And yes, this was my first time viewing (so nostalgia isn’t aiding my positive take), a long awaited moment for me. When I was 8 or 9 it was on cable and I remember starting to watch it while waiting for my mom to finish whatever it was she was doing before we left for a trip, and then recorded the rest when we finally left, but for reasons I can no longer recall I never did go back and finish it (given the rushed way I recorded it, a strong guess would be I forgot it was on the tape before using it for something else). I remember seeing one of the creatures (watching the whole thing now I assume it was the scene where the paramedic is attacked in Steiger’s lab) and that fragmented mental image has been all I had left for literal decades now, so I was stoked to see Synapse had remastered the film and put it out on Blu-ray, as it was never given any DVD release and has been effectively lost since its VHS debut.

That long absence means many of you probably haven’t seen it or barely remember it either, so to quickly explain the plot: a scientist who looks like Michael Bay (evil stepdad dude from Scream For Help, actually) finds out from his dying mother that he has a brother, though he is unable to get anything besides a name (Anthony). So he rounds up some of his colleagues and heads to her isolated home/lab, hoping her notes and experiments can provide him some answers. He’s joined by Amanda Pays (swoooooon) as a former student of hers, who also seems to have her own agenda, and it’s not long before “Anthony” makes his appearance – he’s a slimy monster who starts eating everyone. That’s pretty much the gist of the movie, a sort of cross between From Beyond and a slasher, though a surprising number of the cast end up surviving. But that actually adds to the movie’s charm; they’re mostly pretty likable folks and it’s nice to see how many of them will live to tell the wacky tale (kind of like Tremors in that regard; in fact one of my favorite things about that movie is that it has a relatively *low* body count).

As it’s made by Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter, the team who gave us The Dorm That Dripped Blood and The Power, I wasn’t surprised to see that the pacing wasn’t always great, but that said they had clearly learned from their mistakes on their earlier films, and this was easily their best (the pair would work together one more time on Servants of Twilight before splitting, though they both sit for the commentaries and such so it doesn’t seem to be a personal rift). And some slower action actually works in the film’s favor; the nature of “Anthony” is something the characters have to solve using their science know-how, so if he burst through the floor right away there’d be no reason for them to conduct experiments, and it’s through these talkier scenes we get to know them and how they interact with each other, which adds to the movie’s charm (Peter Frechette as Brad in particular brings some Bill Paxton energy to the proceedings). And I had to laugh at how they isolate a character so they can get some action in there early without it disrupting the others: a character decides she must drop off a giant watermelon at her parents’ house in the middle of the night (it’s their anniversary gift?), only for us to see that the monster has somehow hidden inside the melon, from which he bursts out and kills her as she drives. It’s so insane I had to applaud, and it bought the movie more than enough goodwill to get to the point where the goop really starts to hit the fan.

Synapse’s remastering is (as is usually the case) quite striking, though given the film’s longtime unavailability I can’t compare it to anything beyond my murky cable memory (looks much better!). And it’s got the aforementioned extras, all of which are enjoyable (the retrospective is pretty thorough; several cast members and a lot of the key crew) and I appreciate that they’re there, as the film’s long awaited official release means that they could have just put the film itself out on a barebones disc and it’d still be an exciting day for its fans and those like me who never got to see the whole thing. There aren’t a lot of these relatively “big” genre movies (it did play theatrically and performed fairly well for an indie horror film at the time – in fact it outgrossed From Beyond!) left to be properly released, so as a champion of physical media I see each one like this that comes along to be a huge win and perhaps a sign that the fight isn’t over yet, and we will still get proper special editions for anything else that’s still MIA (as opposed to just being brought to Shudder or something). My dream of getting The Keep inches ever closer!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Halloween Ends (2022)

OCTOBER 11, 2022

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (ADVANCED SCREENING)

It's funny: on the same day I was confirmed for a screening of Halloween Ends, the new 4K UHD set of 6-8 arrived at my door. This odd release (which is spread across and finishes two of the series' continuities and contains none of the films that are setting up said continuities) finishes the main franchise's conversion to the 4K format (leaving only the two Rob Zombie remakes), so Halloween "Ended" twice for me in the span of a few hours. And in Resurrection, Laurie Strode famously died - would I be seeing this character die yet again?

Well obviously I won't be spoiling that much, but it's impossible to talk about this movie without getting into something that's been more or less hidden from the marketing (though I feel one could suss it out if they put enough thought into what they were seeing and what they WEREN'T seeing). So if you want a totally clean experience, best to just bow out now and come back later, but I'll leave you with one spoiler-free thought: if you thought Kills was too much of a swing (and a miss), then you best not even bother with this one. This one swings even harder, to the point where you can conceivably forget for a long stretch that it's even a Halloween movie. If your ideal entry has lots of Michael Myers doing lots of Michael Myers-y things, this film is not for you.

(FINAL SPOILER WARNING! Plot details will be "spoiled" but I will not get into the film's ending.)

OK, for those still here, you've presumably seen the trailer or read enough about the movie (or maybe even saw it by now; it's posting before release but these reviews are here forever!) and thus have caught wind of a character named Corey Cunningham. Given John Carpenter's continued involvement the name Cunningham (as in Arnie) can't be a coincidence; he's very much like the Christine protagonist: awkward, shy, bullied, etc. His problems - as is the case with many a Haddonfield resident - began on a Halloween night, though I'll refrain from saying how (if you've seen the movie, I think you can agree it's one of the film's best shocks) except to note that they were in 2019, and now it's 2022 - a four year jump from the events of the previous two films.

It's an odd shift that the movie never really smooths over; for starters we barely know Corey enough to understand how he's changed since then, but it's just as equally "off" that we get no sense of how Karen's death affected Laurie. The movie really needed something like (stick with me here) Avengers: Endgame, where they get their revenge on Thanos in the first 15 minutes and THEN spring the jump forward on us. When we first see Laurie and Allyson here, they're both seemingly over it - Laurie's even decorating her (new) house for Halloween and baking a pumpkin pie! Since the last film ended literally on Karen's death, we've never even seen how Allyson got the news, only a few hours after her dad died, that she lost her mother too. It's the most character driven entry in this trilogy (which has already been more focused on the characters of the three women more than any other entry in the series save maybe Zombie's Halloween II), but it's also bizarrely missing a big piece. (That Karen is represented from a photo taken during a deleted scene of the 2018 film almost seems like a weird acknowledgement that they know they're just kind of brushing her off.)

But anyway, eventually Corey's path crosses with Laurie's, when he's being bullied by some local jerks over his Halloween past, which naturally earns her sympathy. He has an injury, and Allyson is now working for HMH, so she successfully plays matchmaker by bringing him there. Allyson and Corey bond over his injury and also her busted car (he in turn works at an auto shop/junkyard, another Christine nod), go on a date, etc. Meanwhile, Laurie reconnects with Frank (my man Will Patton) and seems to have her shit together for once! She's even writing a memoir about her ordeals; one hopes she can get Sidney "Out of Darkness" Prescott to write the foreword.

You might notice that I haven't mentioned Michael Myers. Well, that's because... he just isn't in it for a while. He makes exactly one non-killing appearance in the first hour (yes, HOUR) of the film, and it's an important scene, yes, but given that this is supposedly the series finale it's very strange how the marquee villain sits most of it out. Did they learn nothing from Jason Goes To Hell? Then again (OK, final spoiler warning!) maybe that's also intentional, because in that one appearance he seems to transfer his evil to Corey, much like JGTH's makers thought the best sendoff for their own boogeyman was to leave him on the sidelines for most of the movie. But at least there he had that great opening in the cabin! Again, this is why I feel the movie really could have used a 2018-set prologue where Laurie (and Allyson, perhaps) tracks him down after he murdered Karen, maybe let him kill some rando (or even Lindsey, who returns but has no purpose), and then let Laurie "kill" him in the usual (read: not effective) manner. Instead they just say he disappeared for all those years, which really rang false to me. He's just in a sewer tunnel in town - we know Haddonfield PD isn't the best police force in the world, but are they really so ineffective that they'd just shrug him off after he murdered over 40 people in a single night? Didn't they, you know, look?

Anyway, yeah: Corey takes on villain duties for the bulk of the film, sometimes even when wearing Myers' mask (so in addition to JGTH, there's a little New Beginning in there). I'm not opposed to this, I should stress - I think it's an interesting idea and I've certainly seen the real McCoy do his thing enough in 11 other films. My issue is both the placement (again, in the "last" film) and the awkward way we return to this world after Kills, where it feels like we missed a movie in between. I know Covid forced them to change plans a bit, but I can't imagine any scenario where they couldn't have just had a less awkward first act that could solve a lot of the movie's issues (shrugging off Karen, Myers' long absence, etc.). I mean, the movie's almost two hours long, brings back every surviving character (not that there are a lot), introduces several new people and locations - it doesn't FEEL like a movie that's hamstrung by the pandemic in any way. To sum up, they're already asking a lot of the fanbase to accept a movie that doesn't have their "hero" in it for the entire first half (and has him split duties for the second half), but they ask even more of us by doing it in a way that seems needlessly clumsy.

Once it gets going, it works really well, and will satisfy folks who were burned by Kills. It's not on kill overload (it's got a decent body count, but well south of the previous film's record high) and there's no "Evil dies tonight" or anything like that - it's just the usual brand of carnage, highlighted by a sequence at the junkyard where the Shape takes on four jerk teens. The movie occasionally dips into the weird melodramatic dialogue that David Gordon Green and his writers seemingly love (most prominently in a bar scene with a victim's father), but never to the point of derailing the whole thing like in the previous film. It doesn't even have any humor of note; a little bit of cutesy stuff between Laurie and Frank and a couple lines from Corey's father are the only attempts in the entire movie at making the audience smile.

And (not really a spoiler here, it's in the trailer and also obvious) the big showdown between Laurie and Michael is very satisfying, although it has very little buildup - you might not even realize that you're watching the climax until it's, well, VERY OBVIOUSLY the climax. I chalk that up to the lengthy setup period and the fact that most movies are seemingly over two hours now; by the time Myers is actually up and about and doing his thing, there's not much of the (1:50) movie left, but without knowing the runtime and just going off the "feel" of the film's pacing you might assume there's another half hour or so to go when he finds himself facing Laurie again. It doesn't help that Lindsey just disappears from the story at a certain point, and it's not until the very end I even realized that Frank was still working as a cop since there was no police presence in the movie (Sheriff Cowboy Hat only appears in two shots in what's essentially an epilogue); after taking forever to get going, they suddenly start racing through things.

The good news is: the stuff that works? It works REALLY well. Jamie Lee is terrific, seemingly fired up after spending so much of the last movie in bed (and perhaps a bit energized knowing it's almost certainly, definitely, for realsies no takebacks, the last time she'll play Laurie Strode), and Rohan Campbell (Corey) is the rarest of things in this series: a sympathetic young male character. Even when he starts doing awful things, it's hard not to root for him to shake it off and beat his demons, knowing they were triggered by just the absolute worst luck (twice!). Patton doesn't have much to do but he seems happy to be there (and his puppy dog affection for Laurie remains the most endearing thing to me), and Andi Matichak has finally gotten to really shine as a lead without being overshadowed by Curtis (in 2018) and the entire damn town (Kills). And with what little he has to do, James Jude Courtney remains an effective Shape - there's still no stalking of note, but at this point it'd almost be weird if there was since Green has shown no interest in it in his previous two outings. And - probably goes without saying - the Carpenter/Carpenter/Davies score is terrific, with Corey's character giving them some new motifs and one big cue in particular (called "The Procession", already available on streaming) is as epic as it should be given the scene it accompanies.

But only patient viewers will be rewarded, and you gotta deal with some weird plot points (Allyson was apparently dating a cop that's like fifteen years older than her? Again, anyone invested in her character's journey over these three films really got robbed of a big chunk re: Karen's death and how it affected her) and some strange "What year is this?" kind of writing (for example, everyone in town seemingly listens to the same FM station? In 2022?). Tone/pacing wise (meaning, ignoring the plot points) it almost feels like THIS should be the middle entry, setting up a Kills-like action packed finale, but instead it's more like an extended epilogue, which might work if the previous film didn't have such a gutpunch cliffhanger. It's bound to be the most polarizing yet of this trilogy (which is saying something!), and I am crushed that it's also heading to Peacock simultaneously, as that means a lot of the angry takes are going to be from people who weren't even fully paying attention to it and/or having the experience interrupted by ads.

I guess the best way to put it is this: it's a bad Michael Myers movie, but ultimately a good Laurie Strode one. Your mileage will vary depending on whose presence is more important to you in these things. And if you're like me, who assigns them (and Loomis, but he's not an option) equal value, it's just kind of bewildering at times, but ultimately ends in a satisfying way, enough to qualify it as a win. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have to forgive a lot of clunkiness to get there. And here's hoping that "Halloween 14" is a return to the anthology format the series was meant to have in the first place, because there is clearly nothing less to do with these characters and I want everyone who is still alive at the end of this one to just enjoy the rest of their lives offscreen. They've earned it! Leave them alone! But don't remake them, either! Our affinity for them is mainly due to the actors who played them, something Rob Zombie clearly didn't realize. If a remake must be the way to go, do it without Loomis, Laurie, etc. The common complaint about Halloween III is "Where's Michael Myers?!?", not "Where's Laurie Strode?!?", so lean into it if going anthology isn't financially viable (though, I feel it'd be more accepted now especially since H3 appreciation has soared over the years. And if they can get Carpenter and his boys to do the scoring...).

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Lives!

If you don't visit the site at least once a week, that's fine - I don't update it every week anymore, so fair's fair! But those who check in regularly were probably (hopefully?) alarmed that the site was completely removed for about ten days. Not offline, legit DELETED thanks to Google's software flagging it as a sp*m site. It took two attempts on my part to convince them that no, it's not that, it's literally just a bunch of horror movie reviews that they were making unavailable at the time of the year the site gets the most traffic. So, thanks for that one, Google.

And no, I still don't know what triggered it - they couldn't be bothered to even let me know it had been restored, let alone why it was removed in the first place. I just kept checking a couple times a day and finally, yesterday afternoon, it was there, in all its ugly white text over black glory (someone somewhere is definitely mad that this didn't force me to start a new site with better design, and to them I say: lol, sorry!). So that sucked, but at least it's back, and none of the reviews I was working on were lost (I couldn't even access my drafts - that's how extensive the removal was!), so beyond scaring me and a few readers, no harm no foul I guess.

But keep this post in mind if it ever disappears again! I'll never take it down on my own (even if I'm embarrassed by some of the older reviews) but if there's another glitch in their software I can't promise it'll return since there's apparently no way to talk to a human being there. They have helpers on their forums and the one guy helping me (named Adam) was great, but even he seemed to be unable to get any strong answers of why it was flagged as such, because obviously if it was a particular review or comment I'd just delete it outright and not have to worry. Cross fingers it doesn't happen again!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hellraiser (2022)

OCTOBER 4, 2022

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (BEYOND FEST)

I had to laugh when Hellraiser ended and I spied a certain credit among its writers; a bit of information that had escaped me up until now. See, about two thirds of the way through the (two hour!) movie I realized that an opening sequence was really unnecessary and the movie would be much better without it, as it tipped its hand for a mystery that our protagonist was trying to solve. "It's like when they screwed up Dark City with that opening narration!" I thought, and then the writing credits came up and I see David S. Goyer was one of them - the same Goyer who rewrote Dark City! STOP WRECKING YOUR MOVIES, GOYER!

OK, "wrecked" is a strong word. There's a lot to like here, and if you're comparing to the likes of Hellworld and Deader it will come off even better. But this really coulda/shoulda been a knockout considering the talent involved (the other writers and director David Bruckner gave us the terrific Night House) and the fact that they wisely opted not to remake the original (no Frank, no Julia, no Kirsty, etc) and truly reimagine the concept from the ground up. There are some cutesy callbacks from dialogue (a guy asking "What's your pleasure?" when tending a bar got a mild chuckle from me) and Ben Lovett's score occasionally reprises Christopher Young's iconic themes, but otherwise it's a completely new scenario, with wholly original characters beyond new takes on Chatterer and (naturally) Pinhead, who is now played by a woman and has a different tact when dealing with potential victims.

But I can't help but think it would have been closer to knockout territory if they never had that opening bit, in which the film's human villain (Goran Visnjic) lures a partygoer into his secret room and gets him to play with the Lament Configuration, summoning Cenobites and tearing him asunder. Yes, it's a Hellraiser movie and thus it's obvious that these sort of things are going to come into play, but the miscalculation here is that it's not "Hellraiser 11", it's a completely fresh start - which means they have their own rules and zero obligation to do what's expected. And making it worse, the main character is a young addict named Riley who isn't sure if the weird things she's seeing (i.e. cenobites, puzzle boxes coming to life, etc) are real or part of a drug-induced hallucination. Being that it's a remake (from a team who made a psychologically driven thriller) it actually would not only be possible, but kind of daring if she was indeed just killing people herself and chalking it up to some sort of demon (hell, go a bit meta and have her visions be inspired by an '80s horror movie she saw!), but the fact that we know perfectly well what's happening - since we saw some of it before she even got involved! - this angle never works.

So we know she's not imagining anything, and thanks to that opener, we also know who is behind it, another mystery she spends some of the film's considerable runtime trying to solve. There's some half-assed attempt to pass off Visnjic's character (a rich jerk named Voight) as being dead, but... come on. Why would they hire a recognizable actor to play this particular role if he wasn't going to come back and (spoiler for the completely inept) reveal he's lured her and her friends there to be other sacrifices? It's just frustrating, all of the pieces are there to make this a really cool and engaging film (not to mention a terrific way to relaunch a franchise) but it never really (sigh, I gotta do it - sorry) got its hooks into me because I was always so far ahead of the protagonist, in a story that's also too drawn out for its own good. They even much it up AGAIN later, when one of her friends is revealed to be working with Voight, something that very easily could have been a surprise if we found out the same time as Riley, but no - it's explained to us (not her) 10-15 minutes prior, for no reason whatsoever. There's probably a 90-95 minute cut of this movie that would work really well, but instead we get one that keeps narratively shooting itself in the foot while delaying the inevitable.

Also, while rehashing Frank and Julia wouldn't have been wise, they could have at least given us an antagonist on an equal footing with them. Since Voight is supposed to be dead he can't re-enter the story until much later, and Riley and her friends have no real desires to speak of either, to the point where I wondered if Pinhead herself was going to be disappointed that this was all she had to work with. It's kind of amusing that Night House's plot almost seems like it could have been retrofitted into a Hellraiser (a guy regrets opening the box and tries to trick Pinhead with lookalikes to save his wife's soul!) and yet they miss the mark here on what constitutes engaging heroes or villains. The characters not only lack that kind of edge, but some lack any identifying traits at all. Riley's main goal is to find her brother Matt (who disappears and is presumably killed when she first opens the box) and she is joined by his boyfriend and her own boyfriend, but also Matt's roommate, a girl named Nora who - after spending nearly 90 minutes with her - I couldn't tell you one thing about besides... the fact that her name is Nora and she is the Matt's roommate. Remember Kirsty's dull boyfriend in the first movie who they got rid of with a line of dialogue in Hellbound? This movie is populated mostly by people who aren't even as interesting as he was.

All that said, if they put out a lavish coffee table book devoted to the film's design work, I'd preorder two copies: one to keep nice for me, the other to carry around with me so that when I go see a new horror movie with bland sets and no imagination whatsoever to the visuals, I can shove it in the director's face in hopes that they'll take some inspiration and do better on the next one. Pinhead is given a makeover from the neck down, the new cenobites are pure nightmare fuel (their accompanying sound design is terrific too - "The Gasp" in particular unnerved me throughout, and Chatterer's teeth clacking has never been more unsettling), and the new design for the puzzle box is quite striking as well, in all its many forms (part of the new idea is that the box goes through stages as it collects souls). And while the early areas aren't much to look at, a big chunk of the film takes place in Voight's mansion, which is already impressive but is then embellished with iron gates and shields that spread across the entire building, controlled by switches and making the place itself kind of like a puzzle box (I suspect someone involved was a fan of the "Elysium Configuration" in Bloodline!). There isn't much in the way of gore, and it's often disappointingly cut around (like when a character is impaled by a device meant to keep him alive - we see it approach him, and then suddenly it's sticking out of his chest and back, without showing the impact), but there are a number of bits that will upset the squeamish, especially if you have a thing against razor wire and peeled skin.

And by wisely changing Pinhead, comparisons to Doug Bradley never make sense, something the replacements in Revelations and Judgment could never escape. Jamie Clayton's take gives Pinhead (actually named The Priest) an icy, quiet demeanor, playing 4D chess with the characters and letting the smallest change in their expression mark their satisfaction with scoring another victory. They don't get into it too much, but there's a sense that because she's got a feminine demeanor, Riley can appeal to her sympathies while Voight can manipulate her, but in reality "The Priest" doesn't seem to possess the same kind of lingering humanity that we got from Pinhead (thanks to Elliot Spencer). But the filmmakers are smart enough not to overuse them; they only appear about as much as Bradley did in Hellbound, if even that much, making those appearances count instead of positing them as an "icon" who has to be front and center.

I dunno. I seem to be in the minority, and that's a good thing - I want people to love it as much as I wanted to, and I'm legit sad I thought it was just OK. But even if we disagree on the characters or whatever, it's a cold hard fact that the '80s entries were kinkier and taboo-breaking than this, as even some folks who really liked it agree that it's surprisingly tame (there's almost no sex at all; it's possibly the least horny entry in the entire series!), which is odd. Clayton's Pinhead and the design work alone keep it into "win" category if we're going to be binary about everything (which seems wrong when discussing Hellraiser!), and I hope they can use the groundwork laid here to create their own "Hellbound" (i.e. a sequel that expands the world and in many ways improves on the original), but I can't help but feel disappointed that there are at least two of the Dimension ones that I found more engaging in terms of the plot and characters. To each their own, I guess!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dark Glasses (2022)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

GENRE: GIALLO
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (BEYOND FEST)

After Opera, the output of Dario Argento became... let’s just say "spotty" and kindly leave it at that. But it also saw him largely working away from the straightforward giallo type fare that put him on our radars all those years ago, so it was exciting to hear that Dark Glasses (Italian: Occhiali neri) was a back to basics attempt, with no supernatural elements whatsoever. Plus, after a few projects have fallen apart over the past decade, it’s just nice to have ANY new Argento fare, as this is his first film since Dracula 3D all the way back in 2012. The only Master of Horror who is still around that’s made us wait longer is John Carpenter, who isn’t exactly trying to do anything else anyway.

Well I wouldn’t say it was worth the wait, but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, which is all I can ask of a guy in his eighties stepping back into the ring after such a long absence. The plot is vintage giallo: a woman named Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) is blinded after a car accident, and as she tries to readjust to life she realizes that she is still being followed by the serial killer who caused the accident in the first place. And that’s basically it; given the title (which refers to not only her post-accident reliance on sunglasses, but also the ones you use to watch an eclipse unless you’re a hapless moron) I thought there might be some psychic vision or the reveal that the killer was also blind or something, but nah – it’s actually so simple that it almost becomes weightless.

For starters, the killer reveal is a total nothingburger; the movie only has one suspect of note and he’s barely in it anyway. It’s one of those movies where a character needs to say something awkward just to help the audience remember who he was in case they had forgotten, which believe it or not is less preferable than the type where the killer wasn't even in it at all (like the OG Friday the 13th, for example). There’s also almost no police involvement; a pair of cops who do some routine investigation stuff pop up early on, but they are basically phased out of the movie after (spoiler) some other cops are killed, which is odd – wouldn’t that intensify their actions? And there aren’t even a lot of death scenes for Argento to do his thing; a gory throat slashing in its opening minutes seems to be him announcing “I’m back, baby!” but after that there’s relatively little violence at all.

Instead, it’s a surprisingly character driven thriller, focusing on Diana as well as Chin, a young boy who was orphaned in the car accident. Feeling somewhat guilty (she was fleeing the killer and rammed into Chin’s parents’ car) she visits him at the orphanage and tries to make amends by giving him a video game, but as he is bullied there Chin decides she can make it up to him by letting him just stay with her. So the two of them, along with her recently acquired seeing eye dog, become a little makeshift family – and it’s super endearing! I can’t apply the word “sweet” to a lot of stuff in Argento’s movies, but it’s how I felt here – with the added bonus of giving me flashbacks to Cat O Nine Tails’ lovable Karl Malden character.

It’s also easy to like Diana. Unlike some other protagonists who lose a sense, she never seems too angry or stubborn about her predicament – she quickly puts all her effort into having the same life she did. Asia Argento (supposedly meant to play the lead at one point) plays a social worker of sorts who helps her get the dog, shows her how to use a cell phone for the blind, how to use the sounds of the crosswalk meters, etc – and Diana takes to it all eagerly and appreciatively, instead of being bratty and pulling those kind of “This is pointless, I WILL SEE AGAIN!” theatrics we’ve seen in other movies. And she remains somewhat vain about her appearance; at one point she loses her glasses and has Chin pick out a new pair, with the only instruction to make sure they are cute.

So it’s kind of a mixed bag; there’s nothing particularly BAD about the movie, but it’s also a little too straightforward for its own good. Throughout the film I kept thinking “OK yeah but there’s gonna be a weird left field turn right about...” only for that “now!” to never come. At one point Asia takes Diana to a retreat where some other blind folks are, and you’ll probably think that this will produce some suspense highlights (the killer making his way around people who can’t see him, perhaps) but nothing is really done with it. Maybe the budget got trimmed or something and they had to make concessions, but whatever the reason it just feels a bit too stripped down, without the weirdness and wacky plot points that made his “Animal Trilogy” (not to mention Deep Red) so memorable. There’s a scene where Diana and Chin are wading through a little pond and find themselves attacked by snakes – the movie needed more of that energy! But that said, it’s entertaining enough and far from being hateable, so the folks who called for his head (or at least retirement) after Mother of Tears and Dracula (neither of which I minded much, I should note) should be happy to know he’s still able to make something that, while slight, is worthy of his filmography.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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